Friday, March 7, 2014

Dale Brannon - 20 Years of Pure Awesome

For my hero, Dale Brannon.

In February of 1989, my sister Debbie, a senior at Stillwater High School, was sitting in church when Dale, a freshman at Oklahoma State University, walked in alone and sat down. Mom nagged Debbie to “Be nice!” to him. 
So Debbie rolled her eyes (at Mom) and said “Hi” (to Dale).

As it turns out, Dale was quite a catch.  He was a sports super-star, a super smart pre-med student, and witty and charming to boot.  Before too long, Debbie began to suspect that she may just have met the man of her dreams.

That summer, Dale left for Georgia for two years to serve a mission for the Mormon church.  So naturally, Debbie took that opportunity to date as many other guys as she could.  But in the end, she concluded that none of 
them quite measured up to Dale.

So on December 27, 1991, Dale and Debbie got hitched.

And on October 26, 1992, Alexis Christine was born.

Dale was on track to attend medical school Fall of 1994, and began filling out medical school applications during the spring.  Then, on March 7, 1994, the truck Dale and a friend were traveling in hit a patch of black ice.  The truck rolled, Dale’s spine was severed between his 6th and 7th vertebra, and he became a quadriplegic. He was paralyzed from the chest down and left with extremely limited functions in his hands and arms.

Rehab lasted four months.  During the many dark hours and days and weeks, thousands of prayers were said by and in behalf of Debbie and Dale.  Those months were unimaginably difficult.  But one day and prayer at a time, they made it.

The Brannons returned to Oklahoma for Dale to finish his undergraduate classes.  His high grades and test scores made him a perfect medical school candidate, but his being a quadriplegic didn’t.  So despite his excellent credentials, Dale wasn’t accepted to any of the schools he applied to.  They didn’t know what to do with a quadriplegic.

Which deterred Dale not at all.  He tried again the next year, and was accepted into medical school at the University of Oklahoma.  Huge kudos to whomever was on that acceptance committee.

Medical school posed significant challenges for Dale, but he made it.  In June of 2001, Dale graduated and was chosen by his peers to give the speech at convocation.

During Dale’s first year of residency, a downed power line in the Brannon’s backyard started a fire, burning most of their home and causing significant smoke damage to their remaining belongings.  Insurance was willing to pay for housing while their house was being rebuilt, but there were no rental homes available that offered handicapped amenities.  So the Brannons lived in a hotel for two months, then bought and remodeled a house to live in until their house was ready. 

After years of praying and hoping that they could have just one more child, Debbie and Dale’s prayers were answered -- threefold.  On March 12, 2004, Debbie delivered the first set of triplets in the history of OKC hospitals that did not have to spend any time in the NICU.

Debbie, Dale and Alex were over the moon 
(and sleep-deprived for a solid year).

Just a few months later, on the last day of June, 2004, Dale finished his residency in Nuclear Medicine, specializing in PET CT.  Because of his skill set and excellent work ethic, Dale never had to look for a job -- offers came to him.  He started a private practice on July 1, 2004.  

Dale still has a small private practice, and now works full time at the OU Medical Center.  He’s the residency program coordinator for Nuclear Medicine, and on the admissions board for the medical school.

Over the years, I’ve watched Dale be a hero - every day.

He has consistently made decisions that have made - and still make - all the difference. He has chosen

Hard Work

and Laughter

This is what the Brannon family looks like today 
(they finally got their boy!).  

From a pure probability standpoint, this picture should look very different.  Statistics are solidly against the Brannon's marriage lasting after the accident (less than 5% of marriages do), of Dale being a doctor, or of the Brannons being blessed with the triplets.

This picture looks the way it does because of Dale.
One day and prayer at a time, he makes it possible.

Thank you, Dale, for showing us how to live 20 years of pure awesome.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chunky powdered milk: The upside

Published on - HERE's the link
Published in CrossTimbers Gazette - HERE's the link

Our house after the remodel - note the bedroom window where the garage once was.
For my remarkable parents, who were much smarter and possibly a tiny bit wealthier than their kids ever gave them credit for.
DALLAS — My parents raised a large family on next to nothing. The list of what we lacked while I was growing up is long, so here’s a shortened version:
A dishwasher. When I was 3 years old, our family of five moved into a small house that had been built before dishwashers became standard household amenities. When I left for college 15 years later, a dishwasher was still at the top of our “most wanted” list.
Square footage. My parents aimed high, and our numbers grew at a staggering rate. After Mom had her seventh child, she contended that nine people living in 1,250 square feet officially exceeded capacity. And that Dad would be wise to do something about it (the “or else” was more or less implied). Dad took the hint.
Because funds were scarce, Dad hired a college student to assist him and my brother in converting our garage and back porch into living space. The resulting 1,950 square feet felt palatial. So large, in fact, that my parents figured there was room enough to add one more. My baby sister rounded our numbers up to a nice, even 10.
A garage. See above.
Regular milk. Normal people buy milk in gallon jugs; Mom bought ours in 50-pound bags. We used spoons to scoop the froth and chunks off the top of the reconstituted powdered milk, but masking its dreadful aftertaste was more problematic. Our only hope was holding our breath while swallowing, and then being extra careful not to inhale until after taking a bite of food. Breathing too soon spelled taste bud disaster.

Enlarge image
Susie Boyce stands with two of her sisters outside of their childhood home in February 2014. (Photo: Susie Boyce)
Superfluous, expensive stuff. We hardly ever locked our doors, and I remember once how worried my brother was about being robbed. Dad’s reply was strangely reassuring, “Any thief who walks into our house will leave disappointed — and probably empty-handed.”
My parents sold that house and moved away years ago, so I rarely find myself in my hometown. But just a few weeks ago, two of my sisters and I traveled there for the funeral of a dear family friend. Afterwards, we decided to check out our childhood digs.
As we pulled up in front of the house (which had shrunk dramatically), nothing we didn’t have while growing up came readily to mind. Instead, I considered everything we did have. The list is long, so here’s a shortened version:
“Character building” opportunities. Mom’s response to our incessant begging for a dishwasher was always the same, “We already have eight dishwashers! Why do we need another one? Plus, we can’t afford it.” Money from paper routes and other odd jobs went into our very own bank accounts. So we thought carefully — but often not carefully enough — before spending it on movies, clothes or junk food (since our pantry never provided any).
Faith. Strong and deep.
A sense of humor. Seriously, anyone who grows up eating beans and cheese over toast and sharing underwear is destined to one of two things: 1) therapy, or 2) developing an appreciation for the slightly odd, unexpected, and sometimes just plain weird. Since my parents couldn’t afford therapy, we settled on laughter (or shouting or skulking, depending on the situation). Humor has helped our family through heartaches, and makes hanging out together simply awesome.
Friends. Our house was often chock-full; no one (except for us kids, usually at the onset of puberty) seemed to mind our lack of junk food or space.
A few days after our trip, my sister commented, "Sometimes we try so hard to give our kids what we didn't have that we forget to give them what we did have." My sister always was pretty smart; I suspect she got that from my parents.
Love. Imperfections run in our family (I’m guessing we’re not alone). But as a kid, the peace and security that came from knowing I was loved — absolutely, completely, no matter what — pretty much trumped anything else. Even frothy, chunky powdered milk.
My sisters and I stood on the front lawn by the tree my brothers had once tied my sister to (only to get her out of their hair, and only until Mom pulled into the driveway minutes later). While we were laughing, I knew why our small house had been plenty big: we never lacked anything of true value.
Although convincing me of this at 13 would have proved near impossible, we were incredibly lucky. We had it all.
While driving home late that night, it occurred to me that my parents — had it been a true priority — could probably have afforded a dishwasher.
A few days after our trip, my sister commented, “Sometimes we try so hard to give our kids what we didn’t have that we forget to give them what we did have.”
My sister always was pretty smart; I suspect she got that from my parents.
1985.  All the sibs.  Rad.

2013.  Mom & Dad & all 8 kids.  Not too shabby.